Sleeper Spotlight: Burgeoning Klein Cain program is ready and able

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You need not worry about Klein Cain coach James Clancy taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.

“I’m on a boat on Table Rock Lake,” the coach chuckled as he picked up the phone. “I’m definitely socially distanced right now.”

The family vacation is well-earned for the 37-year-old coach — in two hard-fought years, Clancy helped build the young Cain program into a force.

It didn’t always look like that, though; when Klein ISD opened the school in 2018, the Hurricanes opted to immediately play varsity football instead of playing a JV tune-up schedule. It was much more difficult, but all part of Clancy’s trial-by-fire approach.

“The thing I told our kids in the beginning is that we only know one way to coach, and that’s at a varsity level,” Clancy said. “We’re never going to play the victim. We took our fair share of lumps that first year.”

Those lumps — a 2-8 inaugural season — forged the program as a group of talented youngsters began to emerge. As the 2019 campaign progressed, the Hurricanes notched a signature win: a 28-14 upset win over perennial power The Woodlands. But that progress was soon undone by a disappointing loss to The Woodlands College Park, setting the stage for a must-win Week 11 tilt with mainstay — and Clancy’s former employer — Klein Oak.

“It was almost cinematic,” Clancy said.

It’s true: hard to write the script wherein Cain withstands the cold and rain, rallies to take the lead late, and blocks a would-be game-winning field goal to clinch the program’s first playoff spot. It was a moment of deep satisfaction for Clancy, and for his squad.

“It was neat to see the kids who had courage to open a school get that reward,” Clancy said. “It takes courage. You’re walking into an unknown situation. We met some of kids on the first day of practice. That’s crazy! We weren’t supposed to do any of that, and it just provided us with validation on the way we do things.”

Now entering their third year of existence, expectations are high for the Hurricanes. But like every Texas high school football program, the pandemic shattered what was supposed to be a crucial spring of practice for the squad. No wonder, then, that strength and conditioning workouts were a welcome event for the Cain coaching staff.

“June 8 was a special day for us,” Clancy said. “It’d been 94 days since we’d had an athletic period, and just to be back around the kids was neat. You could tell our kids were a little anxious. The sense of urgency is there — the kids know what the expectations are.”

The eye of the Hurricanes’ preseason buzz is junior running back Jaydon Blue, considered one of the state’s top running backs in the Class of 2022 (just ask the 24 colleges that have already offered him, including Alabama, Texas, Ohio State and Stanford). Blue ran for more than 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns in a breakout sophomore campaign, and his coach thinks there’s even more room for growth.

“He had a big learning curve, finding himself as a sophomore carrying the load, but he’s handled himself so well,” Clancy said. “It makes us all excited that he’s ready to take another step. When you’re fortunate enough to have a guy like that, you don’t get tired of talking about him.”

If Cain is to take the next step toward regional contention, it’ll come on the back of an improved defense, which struggled with injury last season. Clancy said he thinks junior defensive lineman Lukia Rawls could become the next big thing for the Hurricanes, but the biggest difference may just be a matter of math.

“Injuries are part of the game, but this is the first year that I’ll be able to say that we have some decent depth,” Clancy said. “With only 29 seniors last year, we were feeling that in the special teams and in those late-season battles when you need senior experience. We just didn’t have that yet, but we’re starting to feel like we’re a full roster this year.”

The Hurricanes will face a treacherous District 15-6A, featuring old foes like Klein Collins and Klein Oak, and new challenges like Tomball Memorial and Tomball. But Cain has never done things the easy way — why start now?

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